Paul Smith: “I will ask questions of Andre Ward”
In the space of five months British super middleweight Paul Smith faced German-based Armenian, and WBO titleholder, Arthur Abraham twice. On both occasions he lost by unanimous decision but the gritty 32-year-old exceeded all expectations and, as a result, has been selected as a comeback opponent for the gifted Andre Ward this Saturday night.
“We were actually offered the Ward fight last year but I turned it down,” said Smith, who will face the American at a catch weight of 172 pounds in his home city of Oakland, California.
“My rematch with Abraham was all but set and I deserved another chance after my first performance. Anyway, I thought the Ward fight was gone for good but his team asked again and it literally took me two seconds to say yes. Now, I have the chance to take on the best super middleweight in the division and it baffles me why anyone thinks I would decline that.”
Smith, from Liverpool, England, works full-time as a boxing pundit for Sky Sports in the U.K. and this reporter asked the former two-time British champion to break down the sum of Ward’s parts from an analyst’s point of view.
“He’s strong, fit, and makes you fight his fight,” said Smith respectfully. “Ward nullifies an opponent’s work, which is probably why he doesn’t have the fanfare accorded other great fighters. As long as Ward wins he’s happy. He doesn’t care how it looks as long as he’s victorious and that’s a great attitude to have.
“The guy hasn’t lost a fight since he was a teenager and that says it all. He’s a natural who does everything extremely well although, it must be said, his coach Virgil Hunter is one of the best trainers in the world today.”
One thing that Ward and Hunter cannot fix is inactivity. The reigning WBA super middleweight champion (title not on the line against Smith) has had just one fight in three years and his opponent is understandably delighted by that statistic.
“The timing is great,” said Smith who has had six outings during that time. “Look, I’m always truthful in my appraisal of a fight. I’m a realistic person and I know what I’m up against here. I need every advantage I can get and Ward’s inactivity is a big plus for me.
“If he does the training camp correctly that will help but he’s still going to be a touch rusty. Hopefully that’s the case but I must be at my best and employ the right tactics on the night. I also need to fight my fight, which will be the difficult part against Ward. Naturally, we’re hoping he has an off night and overlooks us.”
So what will the tactics be? Like Floyd Mayweather, Ward is a genius at defusing an opponent and he neutralizes all signature moves and assets. He is superb on the outside and his rough house tactics on the inside frequently sap an opponent’s strength and ambition.
“You can try and up the pace against Ward but I’ve seen him rise to that challenge in the past,” acknowledged Smith. “When I was preparing to fight Abraham I watched a lot of his fight against Ward, because Abraham was at his very best that night. Ward still managed to outwork and outclass him; he adapted and proved himself the better man.
“Ideally I would love that lottery shot. I want Ward to switch off and attack me recklessly, thinking he can have it all his own way. I’d love him to walk on to one because I’m a puncher and I know I’ve carried my power up to this level. If I hit anyone on the chin at this weight, including Ward, I will ask questions of them.”
Smith comes from a family of real fighting men and it’s not in his DNA to travel 5000 miles for a payday. He kicked open the door with valiant efforts against Abraham, but a victory over Ward would knock the entire building down. Be assured, this game Englishman, who is a 14/1 underdog, will be looking to make a fool of odds makers and wreck Ward’s second coming at the first hurdle.
“I’ll give it everything I’ve got,” said Smith, who is 35-5 (20 knockouts). “I’ll wear my heart on my sleeve and if I’m going out then I’ll go out on my shield. I will ask questions of Andre Ward and I will take it to him. There’s been no animosity and he’s been very respectful of me because he knows he’s got my respect.
“With that said, as soon as the first bell rings we’ll be looking to knock each other out.”
Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers’ Association and has contributed to various publications. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing